Cancelled planning committees are ‘shouting incompetence’

There’s growing concerns over the disorganisation of the council planning department, after last night’s scheduled meeting of the planning committee in the Town Hall Chamber had to be cancelled because of “issues with publication of reports”.

Cancelled: Croydon’s planning committee has met just three times since June 16

The cancellation means that the last four planning committees have all been cancelled (this includes one that was set aside on the day of the Queen’s death).

But overall, going back to June, five of the last eight committees have failed to meet. In fact, the committee of elected councillors has not met to discuss planning applications since August 11, and there’s already a cancelled planning committee in November, on November 3, the day of the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale by-election.

“It’s a poor look,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon today. “It shouts incompetence.”

It was certainly incompetence that led to last night’s cancellation: council staff published the wrong set of papers, which meant that there was not enough time for those whose applications were supposed to be heard to be properly notified.

Figures it out: planning director Heather Cheesbrough

But that is just one signal of a planning department that is struggling to cope with its workload.

According to council insiders, there has been a drop in larger site applications, so the committee has not had enough business to discuss. The possibility arises that if the committee does not meet, then the council’s planners – who have a well-deserved reputation for being very friendly with developers – might use their powers to push through schemes without them ever going before the councillors and denying local objectors any hearing.

The reduction in the number of large site applications has had another consequence, too: less income to the cash-strapped council than had been predicted in the 2022-2023 Town Hall budget which was agreed in March. More problems for the borough’s part-time Mayor, Jason Perry.

The number of smaller-scale, more mundane applications – from householders who want to build an extension to their home, for example – has not declined and is keeping the planning officials busy. Despite the council having been on a recruitment drive for planning staff, there remains a considerable backlog of work, with several in the planning department working solely on appeals and public enquiries.

The planning department, which is under the management of controversial executive director Heather Cheesbrough, has previously refused councillor requests for reports on the number of “delegated decisions” – those planning applications passed (or refused) by council officers, by-passing the committee. Councillors were told that the planning department was too busy to provide such a checklist on its work.

The recent spate of cancelled committee meetings, Town Hall insiders suspect, may also be a reaction by officials to the appointment as committee chair of Tory councillor Michael Neal.

Stooge: planning committee chair Michael Neal

A long-time ward colleague of Jason Perry in the days when the Mayor was a mere South Croydon ward councillor, Neal is regarded as little more than a stooge. His appointment as planning chair in May was widely seen as a reward for years of dedicated brown-nosing in the Perry cause.

And obediently following party orders could be storing up serious problems in the future for the council if it can be shown that Neal has been pre-determining some applications – giving developers strong grounds to appeal against the committee’s rulings.

As one insider said, “It risks undermining the integrity of the planning committee. You can see at some of the meetings, he reads printed notes stating why he’s using his casting vote to reject an application.

“On top of that, he and the Tories on the committee appear to be incapable of formulating refusal grounds, and they are always asking officers to help. Council planning staff should only be advising whether the reasons put forward by the committee for refusal are robust. But Neal’s approach is just to say ‘We’re refusing this’, and then asking the officers to come up with a reason.”

Croydon Council’s propaganda department failed to respond to our questions on the issues affecting the planning committee.

Inside Croydon tried to speak to Councillor Neal today. But the phone number published on the council website for the chair of the planning committee is not working…

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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8 Responses to Cancelled planning committees are ‘shouting incompetence’

  1. Peter Underwood says:

    Croydon appears to have gone from bad planning to no planning at all.

    We know that the Conservative Government has announced they want to by-pass planning laws to allow developers to do whatever they want quicker. Are local Conservatives just getting ahead of the game by giving up on having a planning committee altogether?

  2. Susan Williams says:

    The delivery of planning in Croydon is way below par.

    The reason lies within the planning department. It starts with poor management, poor direction, demotivated officers, Heather Cheesbrough forcing through her personal support for Cllr Paul Scott, and a culture that reinforces the notion that the public is the enemy. It has been ruinous for planning in this borough.

    The result is some pretty gross, over-sized building and appalling planning administration in dealing with consented applications and public concerns. It’s a failure.

    Heather Cheesbrough must be replaced.

    • Alfie says:

      Agree. The department will never have the trust of residents whilst she remains in place. She has done so much damage to the Borough and Jason Perry ignores the strength of feeling amongst residents at his peril. It needs a change of leadership. Perhaps before she goes, she can provide evidence of the return of investment on her £15000 jolly to the south of France.

  3. Lewis White says:

    Weird state of affairs.
    One minute– Planning Committee sidelined by Officers taking most decisions under “delegated powers”.

    Next — Planning Committee don’t meet to do their stuff.

    It can’t be acceptable,, as this activity– Planning— is so important because the built legacy of today’s planning policy and planning decisions lasts around 100 years, maybe more.

    How many Victorian houses of all sizes are still standing and lived in.? Thousands, and these were built well before the Town and Country Planning Act.

    Whilst much of what I see being built around the Borough might not be any different if the Councillors had been more involved, the principal should be that Planning Committees should consider all planning applications, and make decisions on all non-routine ones.

  4. “The possibility arises that if the committee does not meet, then the council’s planners – who have a well-deserved reputation for being very friendly with developers – might use their powers to push through schemes without them ever going before the councillors and denying local objectors any hearing.”

    Is this really a possibility?

    I was under the impression that a referral was a referral was a referral and, until heard by the committee, would just sit on the books like a gazillion other backlogged applications in Croydon and/ or was subject to an appeal for non-determination (which themselves take eons to be sorted).

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    Mr Pelling called for Ms Cheesebrough to be sacked and she complained. Well the proof is visible of this departments failures. So who is to blame?

    Councillors have a role to fulfill and it is not for the Planning Department to determine they cannot do so in that area. The Councillors are a control on planning officers and their actions the same as the Council is a check on Councillors.
    We have seen what happens when controls are ignored. We have seen too often with this Council controls not working and not effective or being subverted and ignored. Croydon planning department has a horrendous public image all of it’s own making. Yet Ms Cheesebrough expects her departments work to not have oversight or control? What part of Planet Earth is that Lady residing in? Does she believe we are in a Dictatorship? One assumes she gets a payslip which indicates her status as an employee?

    This Planning departments work should have been reviewed and have had oversight when the first Judicial review went against one of their perfectly legal development decisions.How many Court rulings against this departments decisions are to happen before investigations begin?

    If they are unable to hold planning meetings suspend planning decisions until they can have effective oversight.

    The chances are more wrongful ”perfectly legal developments will be sailing through with Ms Townsend’s accepting even more Developers letters saying conditions have been discharged when they patently have not, as anyone with one eye visiting the development could have seen.

    All Councillors should protest to Kerswell and ask for immediate implementation of resource to ensure meetings and scrutiny takes place on ALL this departments decisions. When it has retrieved it’s reputation it can go back to 10- 15
    % audits yearly and for simple non contentious applications delegated decisions can be returned.

    Democracy needs to be seen and heard – not run by delegated decisions – we have seen the bankruptcy of that approach already. So can the tail please stop wagging the dog!

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